Not even a pandemic could best the remarkable music scene in the Quad Cities.
The Quad Cities is home to a rich Mississippi blues heritage on the scale of New Orleans, Memphis, Tenn. and St. Louis. Historic venues such as the Col Ballroom and the Adler Theater have hosted artists as famous as guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, and modern venues such as the River Music Experience Redstone Room are destinations for rising artists on tour.
2020 was going to be one of the hottest years for music in the Quad Cities, with country music star Keith Urban set to perform at the Mississippi Valley Fair and a plethora of local concert series were scheduled. However, COVID-related concerns led to the postponement and eventual cancellation of most summer events, and stagnation continued through the rest of the year.
The pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially people in the entertainment industry. “At the beginning, I had eight solo shows canceled. It was very demotivating because I didn’t have an outlet to express myself creatively,” said Pleasant Valley Junior and singer-songwriter Alexa Mueller. Full time musicians had to find other sources of income, and consumers lost the cultural value of live music.
As the year went on, fall and winter weather meant that outdoor performances were not feasible. Some indoor venues implemented plexiglass barriers and other safety measures to protect performers and audiences, but limited capacities and cautious customers effectively shut down live music for the season.
It was not all doom and gloom, however.
Extended periods of time isolated during lockdowns inspired creativity in many people. People of all ages picked up instruments for the first time, while others rediscovered a passion for making music that had been lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With lots of time on their hands, musicians had the opportunity to hone their skills and start new projects.
“Our love of music has always been the sole driving force in playing. The idea of performing live with a group always felt so unattainable, but after practicing working at it for months we were able to make our dreams become reality,” said senior Will Fairman, drummer of Know Agenda, a band composed of Pleasant Valley students.
Summer of 2021 saw an ease in COVID cases, and there was a revival in outdoor events, many of which featured new musicians. Festivals returned with a vibrance from a renewed appreciation from audiences, and there was an explosion of live music in the area. The Mississippi Valley Blues Fest, which had been canceled for the previous year, returned in 2021 and featured world-famous acts John Primer and Eric Gales.
Moreover, local musicians like Mueller began playing indoor venues such as bars and restaurants again. “Before the pandemic, I didn’t really do any solo gigs. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to broaden my understanding of music theory and songwriting. It allowed me to enter the solo acoustic music scene once COVID died down,” she said. Mueller performed at the All Sweat Original Series on Feb. 17 at the Redstone Room.
As the Omicron variant circulates the country and the winter season progresses, it is becoming apparent that the music industry will have to adapt to this changing pandemic. Venues now have to juggle public safety, the revenue that entertainment brings in and its cultural value. “It’s been harder to book indoor shows, especially at bars and restaurants in Illinois,” Mueller noted, “but we want to keep gigging, while taking the proper measures to stay healthy.”
Musicians who started performing during the pandemic have had a completely different experience than those who have had a longer tenure in the industry. Since booking live gigs was harder, they had to find a way to get their name out into the music scene from the get-go.
To tackle this issue, new local band Know Agenda turned to a creative solution: self-publishing music. Their debut album “Cosmic Sands” was released on Apple Music and Spotify in July. Such an early entrance into recording was unprecedented as most bands take years to take this step.
Opportunities for musicians and music lovers alike are everywhere in the Quad Cities. A new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial park is set to begin construction in April. In addition to honoring King’s legacy, it will also feature a bandshell for live music performances. The park will be a center of cultural importance for the area and provide great opportunities for local musicians.
Dynamic, ambitious musicians and incredible support from the community prove that the resilience of the Quad Cities music scene is unquestionable.